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A Little Clean Up, And An Addition

with 8 comments

So.  Experts.

Well, let me say something first–as long as we’re talking about the kind of thing Cheryl is, where what schools are doing is simple enforcing on-site behavior (sit still and shut up in class unless called on, for instance), I’ve got no problem.

I do have a problem with things like anti-bullying initiatives, and directing the school nurse/social worker/teachers/whoever with “identifying” children who are “at risk” for–well, you name it. 

I’ve got several problems with this.

First, forget an ideal world.  The fact that the world is not “ideal” doesn’t give a school–or a government–the right to run around policing the behavior of citizens who have been charged with no crime and then enforcing its ideas of what should be done to fix it.

Governments should be prevented from interfering in the private lives of their citizens except in cases where probable cause that a crime has been committed results in trial and conviction. 

And such a process should be undertaken only when the accused has been given full due process rights–the right to confront his accusers (no anonymous accusations with the accuser’s identity kept secret), no summary punishment before judgment, the right to a speedy and public trial, and all the rest of it.

“We’re just trying to help, it’s not punishment!”  is disingenuous.  If the government is coercing me into behavior I would not undertake without the coercion, it is indeed punishment.  If it’s forcing behavior and requirements on my child (drugs like Ritalin, therapy) against my best judgment, it’s punishing both me and my child.

This is the case even if the government is right in its assessment of what needs to be done.  Just because it w0uld be a good idea that we do X does not mean that the government has the right to require us to do it.  It doesn’t even mean that it is right that government get involved in the issue at all.

The second issue pertains directly to the school:  the purpose of the school is the academic preparation of children for later study and work.  The school is not a hospital.  It is not a social services center. 

When school becomes the locus for “identifying” and “treating” “at-risk” children, the very nature of it changes not only for the children so identified, but for all the children in that school and for all their parents.

We require children to be in school. For the vast majority of those children, that means public school.  And by making public school a place primarily concerned with “social services,” we leave parents in a position where they are unable to protect themselves and their children from government coercion in the latest fashionable conformity group think.

Schools should be schools.  If you think the government should get involved in “identifying” “at risk” children, then it should be done in its own venue and away from schools where parents are required to send their children whether they want the “services” or not.

And that would be true if the people who were doing the identifying were actually expert at something. 

But they’re not.

I don’t know what’s going on in academic and research psychology.  I do know that the teachers, nurses and social workers who do the “identifying” of “at-risk” children do it largely using checklists that are ridiculously broad and based on assumptions that are almost entirely unexamined and largely untrue.

Let’s take, for instance, the now discredited claim that Ritalin only works to improve concentration in children who actually have ADD and ADHD.  That one was hauled out for years as “proof” that these “disorders” actually existed,  and to bludgeon parents with the “imperative” to drug their children.

Well, oops.  Turns out, nobody had checked–and when they did check, it turned out that all kids responded pretty much the same way to Ritalin.

Right about now, Elf is going to jump in and say that if you’d ever met a real ADHD child, you’d see how extreme his behavior is.  And that may be true–but extreme behavior isn’t necessary for a child to be “diagnosed” on one of those checklists.  In fact, the principle characteristic of those lists is precisely that they assume that perfectly normal behavior is somehow a “symptom.”

In case you don’t believe me, let me give you this one:

http://www.brightfutures.org/mentalhealth/pdf/professionals/bridge

s/adhd.pdf

Okay, you may have to copy and paste that to get it to work.

But–look at the items on that list.  Fails to pay attention when spoken to directly?  Have these people ever MET a ten year old boy? 

What’s more egregious, however, is the fact that there are no hard and fast standards for these things.  Whether or not some behavior is actually a symptom is left up to the discretion of the person doing the checklist–in other words, it’s entirely about subjective impressions.

And it’s NOT a case of the “professional” making a recommendation which the child’s parents can choose to accept or reject.  The “professional” has an array of coercive measures to use to impose her will, and she will in fact use them.

As I’ve pointed out on this blog before, back in the Nineties, when the craze for “diagnosing” children with ADHD was at its peak, Connecticut schools in several districts routinely threatened parents with referral to CPS if those parents refused to put their children on medication.

Somehow, “do what we tell you to do or we’ll do our best to destroy your family” doesn’t seem much like a platform for parental choice.

There are, by the way, checklists for things like bipolar disorder and childhood onset schizophrenia, too–and, in the hands of people who are not experts, they’re just as dangerous.

Hell, I’d say that even in the hands of experts, they’re dangerous.

As for things like the anti-bullying and anti-drug and alcohol programs–they’re almost universally based on assumptions that are just plain wrong, and they’re completely immune to the evidence against them.

One of the most popular “drug education” programs in the country was repeatedly shown to actually increase drug experimentation in students who completed its course.   It’s still being used in high schools nationwide. 

If this is “expertise” and “science,” then I’m going to consider becoming a creationist.

But the cure for it is simple–recognize that schools are there to teach academics, period.  Locate the “services” off the scho0l campus, where they can be accessed by families IF those families want them.  Allow the ordering of children and families into such programs ONLY when a full due process trial procedure has been negotiated.  Strip teachers, nurses, social workers and school psychologists of the right to diagnose anything.

And understand this–the government has limited legitimate functions.  This kind of thing isn’t one of them.

Written by janeh

June 27th, 2011 at 9:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses to 'A Little Clean Up, And An Addition'

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  1. Well, we’ve gone from a simple discussion about bullying and what schools ought or ought not do about a particular situation to a far more complex range of quite diverse issues and the problems associated with that.

    We certainly seem to have a cultural disconnect here insofar as our attitudes to schools taking action about problems such as bullying which impinge on the good order and discipline of the school. I disagree with you to that extent. Schools get sued all the time down here for failing in their duty of care, so it’s reasonable for schools to be allowed to take any action necessary to protect themselves against legal liability.

    As for the other problems you mention above, I agree with you.

    Mique

    27 Jun 11 at 9:36 am

  2. Okay. I’m getting a little frustrated here with what seems to be a basic area of confusion that I’m not able to dispel.

    I’ve got no problem with schools making sure people behave themselves on school grounds.

    I’ve got no problem with their breaking up fights or putting kids who beat up other kids or take their lunch money in detention, or even with expelling them.

    What I have a problem with is “anti-bullying programs” where students are led in cut-rate group therapy sessions where some of them are identified as being “at risk” for either bullying or being bullied and then shunted off to “therapy” for their problem.

    Surely it must be clear what the difference is between this approach and simply responding to the behavior of students in the school that may be disruptive or dangerous to other students.

    If my child was getting beaten up at recess and he reported it and no action was taken, I’d sue the school too.

    But there’s a vast difference between this and the kinds of “programs” I’m objecting to.

    janeh

    27 Jun 11 at 9:58 am

  3. Experts who aren’t – in education it seems to be epidemic. Many years ago I was at one of those in-service workshops where we were asked to come up with a metaphor for our classroom. It was certainly an interesting (and sometimes frightening) look into some of my colleagues. One in particular said that our students had so many “issues” to deal with that she saw her classroom as a hospital and her job was to fix as many students as she could while she had them in her care. As someone who’s always thought of my classroom as, well … a classroom, that was an eye opener for me.

    When I think of advising students on mental health or ‘social services’ issues – I cringe. I am NOT an expert on those things and any advice I could give would probably be even less useful to them than a simple Google search would be. At the college level, the student has the right to reject such ‘help’ and we are limited in how and at what level we can intervene in our students lives. I can identify that a student sitting in my classroom appears to be higher than a kite – I can talk with that student privately after class, express my concern and inform the student of available treatment options at the college, but other than that my hands are tied. He gets to choose if he wants to pursue my suggestions and address his ‘issue’. In this particular case, he hung his head a little, admitted to using, assured me he was really trying to quit, and after a couple more weeks of spotty attendance simply quit coming to class. My right to intervene is directly connected to student behavior – if a student’s behavior impedes my ability to effectively teach my class by being a distraction to me or to others, I can step in. But stepping in means giving them the choice to stop the behavior or to drop the class.

    One of the reasons I chose to teach at this level as opposed to high school or junior high was the fact that I am dealing with legal adults. And while many of them do have issues and probably could use intervention of some sort (truth be told, there are some who probably do need medication or even hospitalization) they get to choose those things or not. I get to teach. If they want help with academics, I’m there. If they want help with other issues – we have a counseling department that can refer them to the appropriate social services.

    judy

    27 Jun 11 at 10:01 am

  4. I’m not sure how you got from a bit of nastiness about the party – one in which the school maybe didn’t act and maybe didn’t have the right to act (depending on how the invitations were distributed) to the forcible diagnosis and drugging of boys by amateurs psychologists.

    Unless someone somewhere has instituted some kind of etiquette class, or even class in basic morality (do unto others etc) for girls whose mothers’ social ambitions are cruelly quashed by another child, aided and abetted by her mother and teachers.

    It’s possible. Schoolchildren, particularly girls, can get classified as social incompetents very easily, and this ‘maladjustment’ seen as something to be fixed. In my hometown and some similar ones, pressure to have boyfriends and go to and enjoy teen dances was very common, although normally it came from parents of girls of a similar age and not teachers. Teen pregnancies were fairly common too…
    Anyway. I didn’t see the link between your original post and what you are saying now, although I can imagine one.

    Cheryl

    27 Jun 11 at 10:24 am

  5. Jane, with your latest explanation of your position, I’m now happy to say that I agree with you. :-)

    Mique

    27 Jun 11 at 10:58 am

  6. I retired from 40 years of teaching two years ago. Such changes I saw in those 40 years! Let me toss in my two cents on this subject.

    I totally agree with Jane that schools should be JUST for education. By the time I retired, so much of what was supposed to be teaching time was being devoted to social issues, i.e., what families should have been doing. One could argue that since the families were neglecting their responsibilities, someone (educational institutions) had to step in and do the job for them. I don’t think so. The purpose of a school is education and preparation for the next level in the educational process.

    The other problem with this is that textbooks are being driven by social issues. Social studies books, for example, used to be centered on historical and geographical themes. Now they’re all about cultural diversity and the old “it takes a village” stuff. These may be fine things to discuss with your children around the dinner table, but they hardly prepare a middle schooler for high school history.

    Example: I found a wonderful literature series in l987, filled with classical stories and poems, as well as essays by famous people (Helen Keller) and articles about historical events (sinking of the Titanic). I used that series in grades 6-8 until 2008 (we took very good care of the books) and was able to incorporate a wealth of extra materials that fit into the book. In 2008, a new principal declared that it was a disgrace to be using out of date texts (Poe is out of date . . . how?), pitched them into the dumpster, and got us a brand new series filled with culturally diverse stories by authors one had never heard of. The elements of literature were discarded in favor of how the students should respond to the cultural themes. I retired!

    RE: At risk kids. There have always been at risk kids. There have always been the over-active children, those who took much longer to “get it”, those who had to have more support and help. So much of that is related to genetics, as well as what happened to those kids during the first five years of their lives. Were they read to on a regular basis? Did parents play games with them? Were they plunked down in front of a TV for long periods of time? Did they have opportunities to run off energy? And on and on and on. Now, we numb them down with pills.

    Since I didn’t teach in the public system, we never had to deal with government-enforced interventions; however, it crept into our schools anyway, and by the time I quit, younger teachers were demanding that “troublemakers” be dealt with, and often that meant testing to see what was causing the problem. The usual recommendations were medications and/or transfer to special ed class. So, I think that part of our problem is that teachers’ expectations have changed.

    RE: bullying. It’s a HUGE problem in most schools, and most schools haven’t wanted to deal with it. We were fortunate in having, for many years, a principal who helped us develop a plan for diminishing bullying. The large part of this plan was to confront any and all cases of verbal, physical, and/or emotional bullying immediately by removing the participants and talking to them, letting them know that this was unacceptable. Did this always work? Of course not. If it continued, a meeting with the students, parents, teacher(s), and principal was called. In most cases, the parents were shocked to find out what their children were doing to others. Parents aren’t dummies, and most of them don’t want their kids to grow up like this. There were a few instances where stronger measures had to be taken.

    My point: Teaching anti-bullying to whole classes at a time is a waste of time. Each incident has to be dealt with when it occurs. This is not, however, what many schools want to do. Many teachers don’t want to get involved. Many principals are afraid the parents won’t like them anymore. So, let’s make everyone go through this course, and then we can dust off our hands and forget about it.

    I fear for the future generations of our country. I have become quite involved with home school families and find the basic educational values I would like to see our schools have. NO, these children are not socially retarded; if anything, their social skill both with their peers and with adults excel. Good examples are set for them, and they rarely spend time with the under-achieving, socially driven crowd found in many of our schools.

    Hey, enough is enough. Judy, I really liked your response.

    sarahartburn

    27 Jun 11 at 4:04 pm

  7. Second the motion on culturally “relevant” social studies. There was an article recently in which teh commentator menitoned that while speaking at a college one of his audience said she had never realized before that all the original 13 colonies were on the east coast. It takes an AWESOME amount of “multiculturalism” to turn out high school graduates that ignorant. Some of my son’s “history” texts were about that bad.

    And Sara is right: anti-bullying programs–especially if you redfine bullying down to rudeness–are so much less demanding on faculty and staff than actually maintaining discipline.

    robert_piepenbrink

    27 Jun 11 at 6:30 pm

  8. So I guess you would have been happy the time a teacher handed me a completed Conners scale rating a student for ADHD, and I tore it up in front of her and threw it away. “No signed consent for evaluation, and oh, by the way, if you recommended medication, you could be personally sued for practicing medicine without a license?”

    Cathy F

    CAFiorello

    27 Jun 11 at 10:26 pm

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